Friday, May 1, 2015
WHEN A FRIEND GOES TO PRISON
Having worked in broadcast news for nearly 20 years, I'm not surprised by anything I
read, hear, or see in our society. If you cover things everyday like murders, riots, liars,
cheaters, and everything else that can be described illegal, immoral, and illegitimate, you
become immune to the shock value of things.
So, when I learned Thursday that a good friend of mine from my days in Lake Forest,
Illinois was sent away to prison for 12 years, I didn't sit around saying, "Are you kidding
me?!!!". But I did find myself in an unusual spot, struggling with my feelings towards a
person whom I thought to be a really good guy, raised the right way by a wonderful family,
and genuinely loved by a large circle of friends.
I'm a fiercely loyal person who doesn't turn a back on a friend, no matter what. But for the
first time in my life the "no matter what" came into play. When I first learned about the
crime my old friend committed, I wasn't all that phased and didn't let it affect my thoughts
about the kid I befriended many, many years ago. He was part of a circle of friends I met
during my two wonderful years in Lake Forest and we all formed this incredible bond that
carried us from teenagers to the 50-somethings we are today.
After first hearing about the crime our friend committed, our initial response was, "What
the hell was he thinking?", but none of us talked badly about him. He received our
unconditional support because after all, he was our friend.
Our friend was convicted on 13 felony counts, including mail fraud, wire fraud and
conspiracy. He fronted a scam that offered homeowners representation in the renegotiation
of mortgages. It made his "firm" $13 million, robbing many of the 3,000 people they
"represented" of their life savings.
Thoughts of Bernie Madoff came to mind and this was my friend. He reached out to me
while he was awaiting his sentencing. We talked for 20 minutes but his conviction never
came up. If he didn't bring it up then I figured he didn't care to talk about it. I wasn't in
the mood at the time to say, "What the hell were you thinking?" I was just talking to him
as a friend, like we were still buddies back in Lake Forest. I didn't know of anyone convicted
of anything, much less 13 felony counts. And this was my friend.
Several weeks later, we traded texts and I asked when he was getting sentenced. He informed
me that he got a delay and wouldn't find out the time he would have to spend in prison until
the end of April.
The end of April has come and gone and my friend now sits in a prison where he will spend
the next 12 years of his life. Oh, I'm sure, he'll probably get out for good behavior in 8 years
and he'll still be able to enjoy how many years he has left in his natural life.
However, while I still consider my friend a good friend, I'm wrestling with just how
good a person he really is. There are few things worse than scamming people out of
money knowing full well that you are scamming them. You make up lies that sound
so good to people you don't even know, they open their wallets and bank accounts,
trusting you blindly. You even offer them a money back guarantee and when they
want their money back, you say, "Sorry, I don't have it."
What kind of person does that? Is he so intoxicated by greed that he has to take advantage
of people, selling them a pack of lies of hope and financial flexibility?
People should know by know that nobody gets away with a scam. The FBI and IRS always
catch up to you. It may take years, but they almost always get the bad guys.
Is my good friend really a bad guy? Knowing him the way I did, my first reaction is
to say 'no'. Sadly, that just may be my own perception of him. I don't want to believe
the worst in him.
But the reality is, my friend was a bad guy, corrupted by greed, immune to the feelings
of the people he was scamming. He is paying a very steep price for his actions. 12
years in prison away from his family, flat-broke, and his good name gone forever.
Society is quick to tag people with labels and my friend will now always be the guy
who tried to become rich by stealing from the not-so-rich.
However, if my friend calls me from prison or when he gets out, I, for some reason
I haven't figured out yet, will take the call and be there for him. I will not run away
or ignore him.
I really do want to ask him, "What the hell were you thinking?", but will also realize that
it won't matter what the response is.
He is a friend, no matter what, and that will never change.